Half of the popu­la­tion will expe­ri­ence about 450 peri­ods from the first mens­trua­tion to meno­pause. On average, mens­trua­tion lasts over 40 years, from 12 to 52 years old. In the course of their lives, each mens­trua­ting per­son uses an average of around 14,000 dis­po­sable tam­pons and pads. But who has ever seriously thought about the impact of dis­po­sable pro­ducts on their bud­get or the environment?

How much do we actually spend on menstrual products?

Since there are no offi­cial stu­dies in Ger­many on how much a per­son spends on mens­trual pro­ducts in their life, we will quickly give you a simple cal­cu­la­tion. In order to not to make the cal­cu­la­tion too com­pli­ca­ted, we will sim­ply assume five mens­trual days per cycle and con­si­der only the most necessary addi­tio­nal costs. If only tam­pons and panty liners are used, the costs for the fol­lowing cal­cu­la­tion amount to around 6.60 $ per cycle:

20 tam­pons x 0,22 $ per piece = 4,40 $
10 pan­ty­liners0,22 $ per piece = 2,20 $

4,40 $ for tam­pons + 2,20 $ for pan­ty­liners = 6,60 $ per cycle
450 peri­ods x 6,60 $ per cycle = 2.970,00 $ lifetime

In order to cover the basic annual need for dis­po­sable mens­trual pro­ducts, a mens­trua­ting per­son spends an average of about 80.00 $. With a total of 450 peri­ods in life, the costs for tam­pons and panty liners are around 3,000 $. This inclu­des neit­her pads nor other mens­trual prod­cuts. Also pain medi­cine or hot-water bot­t­les are not inclu­ded in this cal­cu­la­tion. From an eco­no­mic point of view, the dis­po­sable mens­trual pro­ducts used every month are the­re­fore a lucra­tive busi­ness for manu­fac­tu­rers. This means that the deve­lo­p­ment and mar­ke­ting of reus­able and sus­tainable mens­trual pro­ducts is not attrac­tive for many large com­pa­nies and the­re­fore recei­ves little media atten­tion. The cul­tu­ral taboos on mens­trua­tion also con­tri­bute to the suc­cess of the dis­po­sable mens­trual pro­duct indus­try.
Mea­ning that peri­ods are prag­ma­ti­cally also an expense fac­tor. Howe­ver, there are good news here: In Ger­many mens­trual pro­ducts will only be taxed at the simple rate of 7% from 2020 onwards. Cur­r­ently, the maxi­mum rate of 19% VAT is levied on mens­trual pro­ducts. Next year it will show whe­ther manu­fac­tu­rers will pass the tax reduc­tion on to con­su­mers or con­ceal the actual price change through decep­tive pack­a­ging and other dubious procedures.

Menstruation as a monthly waste production

A glo­bal pro­blem in this con­text is the envi­ron­men­tal impact cau­sed by the regu­lar use of dis­po­sable pro­ducts, some of which are che­mi­cally trea­ted. Star­ting with cot­ton, for example. The cul­ti­va­tion and trans­port of cot­ton con­sume valu­able resour­ces such as water, fuel and human labour. Only to end up in the gar­bage after only a few hours of use. In Ger­many, all mens­trua­ting people pro­duce more than 20,000 tons of waste with dis­po­sable pro­ducts in the course of their lives. 20,000 tons cor­re­spond to 20 mil­lion kilos of waste. In terms of quan­tity – and these are only the mens­trual pro­ducts – these are 170,000 bath­tubs fil­led with waste. Let us be more aware of the pro­ducts that come into con­tact with our bodies and their impact on the envi­ron­ment.
The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was dis­cus­sing a ban on dis­po­sable mens­trual pro­ducts. Howe­ver, this could not be adop­ted when the law to reduce the use of dis­po­sable plastic pro­ducts was pas­sed. The rea­son for this is that dis­pos­ble mens­trual pro­ducts belong to those items where there are none or only insuf­fi­ci­ent alter­na­ti­ves accesible.

Which sustainable menstrual products do already exist?

There are also envi­ron­ment­ally friendly and reus­able opti­ons out there. These include, for example, mens­trual cups, fab­ric pads, natu­ral spon­ges, leak-proof under­wear or free blee­ding, where no pro­ducts are nee­ded at all. The same alter­na­ti­ves that make mens­trua­tion more sus­tainable for wealthy people, often make it more beara­ble for people in poo­rer coun­tries.
But only those who know alter­na­tive pro­ducts can use them for years to come and bene­fit from their advan­ta­ges. Sus­tainable mens­trual items are often more expen­sive to buy than con­ven­tio­nal dis­po­sable pro­ducts. Over time, howe­ver, reus­able alter­na­ti­ves can save money. Access to mens­trual pro­ducts is the­re­fore no lon­ger directly lin­ked to a person’s finan­cial situa­tion. It is time to deve­lop sus­tainable mens­trual pro­ducts and bring them into the main­stream at rea­son­able prices!

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Foun­der Vulvani | britta@vulvani.com | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-foun­der of Vul­vani. She loves rese­ar­ching, wri­ting and designing new arti­cles or inno­va­tive edu­ca­tio­nal con­cepts about mens­trua­tion all day long. When she is not tra­vel­ling the world, she enjoys spen­ding time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.